Supreme Court Weighs Case on State’s Prison Health Conditions
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether to uphold an earlier court order requiring California to reduce its prison population by 40,000 over the next two years to ease overcrowding and improve inmate health care, the Washington Post reports (Barnes, Washington Post, 12/1).
Since 1990, California has faced numerous lawsuits related toÂ prison medical care and overcrowding.
In 2009, a federal three-judge panel ruled that California's prisons were so overcrowded that they violated constitutional standards for medical and mental health care (Liptak, New York Times, 11/30). The panel noted that one inmate died every eight days from medical conditions that could have been avoided or delayed (Washington Post, 12/1).
The Supreme Court now is deciding whether to uphold or reverse the three-judge panel's order requiring California to reduce its inmate population. Â
California Attorneys State Their Case
California attorneys argued that the panel's order to reduce the state's inmate population exceeded judicial authority, could endanger Californians and would not be necessary to improve inmates' health care.
Carter Phillips, an attorney for the state, said California could provide sufficient care without court intervention.Â Phillips argued that prison conditions have improved over the past few years, partly because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has transferred many inmates out of state and worked with lawmakers to reduce imprisonment of low-level offenders (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1).
Justices Weigh In
Many justices said the state has failed to improve prison overcrowding despite years of court cases (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 12/1).
According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, courts have seen "massive expert testimony" detailing how overcrowding in California's prisons has led to constitutional violations in medical care. Kennedy said the three-judge panel made a "perfectly reasonable decision" in ordering California to reduce its inmate population.
Meanwhile, Justice Samuel Alito said he did not think the three-judge panel had sufficiently linked overcrowding to unconstitutional conditions. Alito also expressed concern that a widespread release of prisoners would lead to an increase in crime (Washington Post, 12/1).
Timeline for Ruling
The Supreme Court ruling is due by the end of June (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1).
Headlines and links to other coverage of the Supreme Court case are provided below.
- "California Prisons Frustrate Justices" (Bravin, Wall Street Journal, 12/1).
- "U.S. Supreme Court Wades Into California Prison Overcrowding Issue" (Doyle, Sacramento Bee, 12/1).
- "Supreme Court Weighs California Inmate Release Order" (Goad/Miller, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 11/30).
- "Supreme Court Considers Calif. Prison Crowding" (Sherman, AP/Ventura County Star, 11/30).
- "High Court Spars Over California Prison Woes" (Zapler, San Jose Mercury News, 11/30).
Headlines and links to editorials on California's prison overcrowding case are provided below.
- "Protecting California's Prisoners" (Los Angeles Times, 11/30).
- "Prison Dodge" (Riverside Press-Enterprise, 11/29).
- "Editorial: Brown Will Face Prison Crisis One Way or Another" (Sacramento Bee, 12/1).
- "Editorial: Kamala Harris' Idea Could Ease Prison Crowding" (Sacramento Bee, 11/30).
- "Supreme Court To Address California's Prison Woes" (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1).
Headlines and links to broadcast coverage of the case are provided below.
- "Supreme Court Hears Calif. Prisons Case" (Small, "California Report," KQED, 11/30).
- "Supreme Court Impatient With Slow Progress in California Prison Medical Upgrades" (Small, "KPCC News," KPCC, 11/30).
- "Supreme Court Weighs Calif. Prison Overcrowding" (Totenberg, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/30).